Before I Die by Peg Johnson

Part 1. Dreaming

Before I die,

I will stand in the frozen north and watch,
the green and silver and purple and blue lights of the aurora
create a fantasy across the sky.

Before I die,

my one and only prince charming,
will waltz with me across a grand ballroom in Vienna,
the silk of my dress swirling in . time,
the lush, romantic strings of an orchestra playing just for us.

Before I die,

I will stand in the frozen south, and
watch the tuxedoed penguins waddle across the ice,
all of us unaware of the dangers,
lurking just beyond where we can see.

Before I die,
the shrill laugh of a hyena
and the roar of a lion
will terrify me,
while the unfamiliar stars of the Southern hemisphere,
stare at me in silence.

Before I die,

I will stand in tears before that famous domed, white tomb,
and marvel at what the magnificence and conceit
of love can build.

Before I die,

my nose will be tickled by champagne,
at a sidewalk bistro in Paris,
and I will be enchanted by a city,
that hums, then sings in a language I don’t understand.

Before I die,

with South Pacific sand in my toes,
my face aglow in moonlight,
ocean breezes caressing my hair,
I will be kissed by the stranger,
who married me so long ago.

Before I die,

I will hike the length of the Rocky Mountains,
and be dirtier and stronger and skinnier,
than I have ever been.
The Continental Divide will humble me,
and place me firmly in my own infinitesimal spot in the world.

Before I die,

none of this might happen,
but I’ve dreamed it all and will not live with regret.
It has all happened to the wild woman in me,
the one whose imagination knows no bounds.

Part 2. Remembering

Before I die,

I will feel the strength of my father as he twirls me,
screaming and laughing in circles through the air.
I will smell his workmen tshirts fresh off the clothesline,
smell the stale beer and old smoke of his neighborhood tavern.
My tongue thick with the cloying taste of a Shirley Temple, I listen.
His tongue, thick from other drinks,
brags to his buddies,
about his daughter, the straight A student.

Before I die,

I will hear my mother’s clear soprano voice singing old songs,
as she manages the enormity of an overcrowded household.
I will again eat my dinner so slowly,
that my father and all four of my siblings will have long since left the table.
My mother will wink at me as she places her feet on my father’s abandoned chair,
and for a few precious moments, amidst the tumult,
we are the only two people in the whole world.
The light from her eyes tells me,
that the sun rises and sets with my smile.
We will our have long grown up conversations over pots of tea,
late at night at the same kitchen table.
And I will again feel my mother’s hand on my cheek
as she says goodbye for the last time,
and the warmth of her touch will linger my entire life.

Before I die,

I will stand in the park,
the scent of lilacs in the air,
the snows of Pike’s Peak,
glistening in the afternoon sun,
and once again say those magic words,
Yes, I do,
commit myself with unbounded happiness
to this blond and handsome boy,
who stole my heart from me.

Before I die,

I will feel again feel the utter bliss
of breastfeeding newborns in the middle of the night,
wonderous eyes shining with complete and all absorbing adoration of me,
a mom who is feeling her way through exhaustion to a new kind of love.

Before I die,

I will drink red wine in the soft light of a warm summer evening,
sifting one by one through the dust of memories that is a life.

Part 3. Hoping

Before I die,

I will feel the notes and minor chords,
of the Moonlight Sonata,
slowly dance from my fingers,
across the keys of my old piano.

Before I die,

my bare feet will splash through puddles left from a rain,
and my toes will wiggle in the depths of a cool grassy lawn.
my naked body will sink into a muddy river,
and buoyed by water and life,
my wet skin will shine in the desert sun.

Before I die,

I will laugh with babies in the discovery of life,
feel the heaviness of a small body against my chest,
the trust of tiny arms wrapped around my neck,
and read bedtime stories to drooping lids,
unwilling to succumb to sleep, eager for just one more story.

Before I die,

I will watch children run and run
and run just for the sheer joy of running,
and chasing after them,
I will feel that freedom and delight.

Before I die,

I will lose myself in the passion and strength
of a love built over long decades,
of shared adventures and sorrows and joys,
a love that is worn and easy and comfortable,
long lasting but somehow ever fresh,
fueled by the daily music conversation and laughter.

Before I die,

I will find a way to face inevitable endings
with courage, dignity and grace,
and humor too.
I will let go of silly worries,
like how soft I am in body,
how easily my eyes mist,
how that one word refuses to leave the tip of my tongue.
I won’t care about how much is left undone,
the photos unsorted, the closets uncleaned,
the poems unwritten, the music unplayed.

Before I die,

I will stop the foolishness of wishing myself young or somehow different,
for wishes are only that.
I will just quietly keep on learning until my brain cries uncle,
and laugh until my sides split and then split again,
and love until my heart explodes in appreciation and wonder.

Before I die,

I will live, just live,
right here, right now,
and leave my kindness, my fierceness, my integrity, my tenderness, my very essence,
hanging in the air, wafting slowly, towards unknowable destinations.